A Witness and a Warning

PictureAlger Hiss. Whittaker Chambers. No longer household names, but in the decade following the conclusion of the Second World War, there may not have been two Americans more famous — or infamous — than they were.

On January 21, 1950, Alger Hiss, a senior State Department official, was convicted by a jury of two counts of perjury. The culmination of hundreds of hours of testimony before Congressional committees and two courts of law, Hiss’s conviction was also a public exoneration of Whittaker Chambers, the man who had exposed Hiss as a Communist agent….

We are all indebted to Chambers for helping shine the light of truth on treacherous Communist traitors such as Hiss who were working to overthrow liberty, and for helping to raise the national consciousness and understanding of the insidious sickness that is Communism. Chambers’ Witness abounds with insights into the true nature of Communism and its adherents, and into the great conflict between the “irreconcilable opposites” of “God or Man, Soul or Mind, Freedom or Communism” [16].

From Dedication to Disaffection
Whittaker Chambers, christened Jay Vivian Chambers, was raised in a lower middle class home, and endured a difficult childhood. His emotionally distant father separated from his loving mother. His brother succumbed to alcoholism and committed suicide. Chambers gravitated towards atheism and, thinking Communism was a solution to the crisis of history manifested by the First World War, joined the American Communist Party.

Chambers began writing for The Daily Worker, a Communist newspaper. Soon he was recruited into the Communist underground. As a Soviet agent, Whittaker witnessed and aided espionage committed by U.S. government employees and officials, including by the U.S. State Department official Alger Hiss.

He also became aware of, witnessed, and experienced things that eroded his faith in Communism; things that would lead to a complete break from Communism, and to him becoming one of Communism’s great adversaries.

Many of the negative things Chambers witnessed he at first attributed to imperfections of people, rather than to deficiencies in the Communist philosophy.

He disliked the factions and rampant discord within the Party.

Under the fiction of unity, the factions fought fiercely and shamelessly. Each sought to gain control by any means of the party press and all the units of the party organization. Each circulated secret mimeographed attacks on the other or promoted scandalous whispering campaigns…. [206]

He grew tired of the Party’s general bias against debate and the open exchange of ideas.

The word “intellectual” was the most lethal in the invective vocabulary of Communism. No one who could read or speak fluently was entirely invulnerable to it. Even a high-school education laid a man open to attack. No matter how ably a Communist might argue a point, he could almost always be stopped by any illiterate who chose to fling the annihilating term. “Isn’t he an intellectual?” one comrade would ask about another in a tone of one teetotaler asking about another: “Isn’t he a drunkard?” [207]

He was bothered by the propensity of Party members to quickly discard strongly held loyalties and positions in favor of the latest Party leaders and proclamations. He cited one Communist he knew, Harry Freeman, as a prime example:

No matter how favorable his opinion had been to an individual or his political role, if that person fell from grace in the Communist Party, Harry Freeman changed his opinion about him instantly. That was not strange; that was commonplace of Communist behavior. What was strange was that Harry seemed to change without any effort or embarrassment. There seemed to vanish from his mind any recollection that he had ever held any opinion other than the approved one. If you taxed him with his former views, he would show surprise, and that surprise would be authentic. He would then demonstrate to you, in a series of mental acrobatics so flexible that the shifts were all but untraceable, that he had never thought anything else. More adroitly and more completely than any other Communist I knew, Harry Freeman possessed the conviction that the party line is always right.

He had been an ardent admirer of Trotsky. “The three greatest minds of our times,” he said to me more than once, “are Freud, Einstein and Trotsky.” But the moment Trotsky fell from power, Harry Freeman became a Stalinist overnight, and so completely a Stalinist that he was outraged that I should suggest that he had ever been anything else. I dwell on this because he was a faultless example of the Stalinist mind — instantly manipulable, pragmatic, motivated by the instinctive knowledge that political position (contingent in the Communist Party on unfailingly correct official views) is indispensable to political power. And that power he desired, not for itself, but for revolutionary ends, for without political power, nothing can be achieved in history — certainly not a revolution. [217-218]

But these were minor annoyances, really, when contrasted against a reality that Chambers grew aware of and could not deny: That Communism is evil.

From Disaffection to Defection
In the Soviet underground Chambers worked closely with a Russian, Colonel Bykov. He and Bykov met frequently, and Chambers quickly realized that Bykov was constantly paranoid, that he “believed that he was constantly enveloped by the American secret police because he could not imagine a society in which secret police were not everywhere…” [438].

It was from Bykov that Chambers learned a profound truth. One Christmas Bykov insisted on giving valuable presents to some of the underground’s Washington sources. Chambers objected, on the notion that the sources would be upset, since he felt they were “principled” Communists who worked for the cause without thought of recompense. Said Bykov, “All right, so they are Communists. But it is you … who do not understand…. Who pays is boss, and who takes money must also give something” [414]. Thought Chambers:

Something in me more lucid than mind knew that I had reached the end of an experience, which was not only my experience. Out of that vision of Almighty Man that we call Communism and that agony of souls and bodies that we call the revolution of the 20th century was left that pinch of irreducible dust: “Who pays is boss, and who takes money must also give something.” It might stand as the motto of every welfare philosophy…. Henceforth I knew that I was in the pit, though my mind would seek to elude the knowledge for many months. [414-415]

Chambers also learned that Bykov “was an awed admirer of Nechayev, the 19th-century Russian who carried the logic of revolution to its limit, teaching (Lenin, among others) that murder, kidnapping, arson, robbery and blackmail, all crimes, are justified if they serve the socialist cause.” [438]

Needless to say, Bykov was also an ardent admirer of Joseph Stalin, the then current Soviet leader, who had already far surpassed Nechayev in the commission of crimes for the cause of Socialism.

It was Stalin’s crimes against Stalin’s own Communist comrades, some of whom Chambers personally knew, that finally awakened Chambers.

John Sherman, a fellow American Soviet agent, traveled to Japan and then to Russia on Party business during the late 1930s, and was fortunate to escape Russia with his life. “I will not work one more hour for those murderers!” Sherman declared to Chambers upon his return.

His story has become a fairly familiar pattern since then. As soon as he reached Russia, after his recall from Japan, his passport had been taken away from him. He was completely without identification…. In effect, he was a prisoner…. Despair engulfed him — the despair of a man who finds himself in a hermetic trap from which there is no apparent escape, who realizes that he has given the better years of his life to an activity that he suddenly perceives to be monstrous, and who remembers that, far away and beyond communication, a wife and small child are waiting for him, and that he may not see them again.

His despair was heightened by the discovery that he was not alone. He found that there were a score of other Americans in Moscow, hopeless, wretched derelicts of Communism, who, like him, had been used and cast away, but who were not permitted to leave Russia. [408-409; See also Book Review of the Forsaken, about American emigrants who perished in Soviet Russia.]

Sherman had almost become one of the countless victims of the Great Purge, the largest of the many purges and terror campaigns carried out by Stalin to consolidate and preserve power.

Still, in the United States, media and government officials continued to largely hold and propagate pro-Soviet views, in spite of increasing awareness of Stalin’s brutality. Chambers wrote:

More nonsense, if possible, has been written about the Purge than about any of the great events of our age…. The Great Purge was in the most literal sense a massacre. It was like one of those Western jack-rabbit hunts in which a whole countryside forms a vast circle that finally closed in on its victims and clubs them to death. The purgees, like the rabbits, had no possible chance to escape; they were trapped, arrested, shot or sent to one of those Russian slave-labor camps on which the Nazis modeled their concentration camps, substituting the gas oven for death by enforced starvation, hard labor and undoctored disease. This great massacre, probably the greatest in history, was deliberately planned and executed. In the interest of the Revolution … the group of Communists headed by Stalin decided that the historical situation through which the world and the Communist Party was passing, justified them in killing off those Communists who opposed their indispensable strategy and tactics. Those killed have been estimated from several hundred thousand to several million men and women….

The principle is the old Oriental one whereby a great king commanded a group of slaves to dig and construct a treasure vault. When the treasure was moved in, the king commanded a second group of slaves to massacre the first group, so that the secret of the vault and its location died with them. To make doubly sure, he then commanded a third group of slaves to massacre the second group, so that even the knowledge that the second group had massacred the first group was buried with them…. [76-77]

As Chambers contemplated the names of the prominent victims of Stalin’s purges, and their former status within the Communist revolution and Party, he came to a sobering realization.

On a Communist, not only the numbers, but the revolutionary stature of the purgees, had a shattering impact. To the Western world, those strange names — Rykov, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, Piatakov, Rakovsky, Krylenko, Latsis, Tukhachevsky, Muralov, Smirnov, Karakhan, Mrachkovsky — were merely tongue twisters. To a Communist, they were the men who had made one of the great transformations in human history — the Russian Revolution. The charge, on which they were one and all destroyed, the charge that they had betrayed their handiwork, was incredible. They were the Communist Party. If the charge was true, then every other Communist had given his life for a fraud. If the charge was false, then every other Communist was giving his life for a fraud. This was a torturing thought. No Communist could escape it. [78]

Meanwhile, Chambers himself had experienced a life-altering event, one which helped grow his budding awareness of a higher power, and began to awaken him to the reality of the existence of God and of the soul of man: He had become a father.

It was the combination of the realizations that God exists, that man has a soul, and that crimes against the soul of man are evil, that precipitated Chambers’ break with Communism.

The Communist Party, despite occasional pious statements to the contrary, is a terrorist organization. Its disclaimers are for the record. But its record of kidnappings, assassinations, and murders makes the actions of the old Terror Brigade of the Socialist Revolutionary Party look merely romantic. [65-66]

One thing I knew: I was no longer a Communist. I had broken involuntarily with Communism at the moment when I first said to myself: “It is just as evil to kill the Tsar and his family and throw their bodies down a mine shaft as it is to starve two million peasants or slave laborers to death. More bodies are involved in one case than the other. But one is just as evil as the other, not more evil, not less evil.” … With that thought I had rejected the right of the mind to justify evil in the name of history, reason or progress, because I had asserted that there is something greater than the mind, history or progress…. this Something is God. [81]

Once awakened to the evils of Communism, Chambers refused to be taken in by the notion that Stalin, not Communism, was to blame.

The point was not that Stalin is evil, but that Communism is more evil, and that, acting through his person, it found its supremely logical manifestation. The important point was not the character of Stalin, but the character of Communism, which, with an intuitive grasp that was at once the source of his strength and his mandate to power, Stalin was carrying to its inevitable development as the greatest of the fascist forms…. [249]

That was the horror of the purge — that acting as a Communist, Stalin had acted rightly. In that fact lay the evidence that Communism is absolutely evil. The human horror was not the evil, it was the sad consequences of the evil. It was Communism that was evil, and the more truly a man acted in its spirit and interest, the more certainly he perpetuated evil.  [79]

With this new understanding Chambers could no longer in good conscience remain a member of the Soviet underground, or even remain as a member of the open American Communist Party. Chambers wrote:

In 1937, I repudiated Marx’s doctrines and Lenin’s tactics. Experience and the record had convinced me that Communism is a form of totalitarianism, that its triumph means slavery to men wherever they fall under its sway and spiritual night to the human mind and soul. I resolved to break with the Communist party at whatever risk to my life or other tragedy to myself or my family. [541]

So, in spite of the mortal risk to himself and his family — for he knew others who had deserted and who had died for so doing — Chambers made a complete break with Communism.

To Hiss a Warning
There were three men in the underground who Chambers considered to be friends. These he attempted to convince to also defect. One of these was Alger Hiss of the State Department.

Chambers paid an emotional visit to Hiss’ Washington D.C. home, where he strove to persuade Hiss of the evils of Communism.

I began a long recital of the political mistakes and crimes of the Communist Party: The Soviet Government’s deliberate murder by mass starvation of millions of peasants in the Ukraine and the Kuban; the deliberate betrayal of the German working class to Hitler by the Communist Party’s refusal to co-operate with the Social Democrats against the Nazis; the ugly fact that the German Communist Party had voted in the Reichstag with the Nazis against the Social Democrats; the deliberate betrayal of the Spanish Republican Government, which the Soviet Government was only pretending to aid while the Communists massacred their political enemies in the Spanish prisons. This gigantic ulcer of corruption and deceit had burst, I said, in the great Russian purge when Stalin had consolidated his power by massacring thousands of the best men and minds in the Communist Party on lying charges. [72]

Hiss wasn’t swayed. The two men parted ways, “believing that [they] were seeing each other for the last time” [73].

From Defection to Denunciation
It wasn’t easy for Chambers to break with the Communist Party. Besides leaving behind the only employment, associations and friends he had (besides his wife and children), there were the questions of reintegration into society and keeping himself and his family safe from the inevitable retribution that would come from his former “comrades”.

Fortunately for Chambers, God was intimately aware of his struggles, and granted him the spiritual strength to move forward.

There came a moment so personal, so singular and final, that I have attempted to relate it to only one other human being, a priest, and had thought to reveal it to my children only at the end of my life.

One day as I came down the stairs in the Mount Royal Terrace house, the question of the impossible return [to living openly in society as an ex-Communist] struck me with sudden sharpness. I thought: “You cannot do it. No one can go back.” As I stepped down into the dark hall, I found myself stopped, not by a constraint, but by a hush of my whole being. In this organic hush, a voice said with perfect distinctness: “If you will fight for freedom, all will be well with you.” The words are nothing. Perhaps there were no words, only an uttered meaning to which my mind supplied the words. What was there was the sense that, like me, time and the world stood still, an awareness of God as an envelopment, holding me in silent assurance and untroubled peace. There was a sense in that moment I gave my promise, not with the mind, but with my whole being, and that this was a covenant that I might not break….

The moment itself was something which to deny would be a blasphemy. It was decisive for the rest of my life, and incomparable in that I never knew it again….

Henceforth, in the depth of my being there was a peace and a strength that nothing could shake. It was the strength that carried me out of the Communist Party, that carried me back into the life of men. It was the strength that carried me at last through the ordeal of the Hiss Case. It never left me because I no longer groped for God; I felt God. The experience was absolute….

[Never] did I regard myself as an instrument of God. I only sought prayerfully to know and to do God’s purpose with me. And I did not suppose that those words, “All will be well with you,” implied my happiness, for I never supposed that what man means by well-being and what well-being means to God could possibly be the same. They might be as as different as joy and suffering. I only knew that I had promised God my life, even, if it were His will, to death.

This is my ultimate witness. [84-85]

At first Chambers was hesitant to “fight for freedom” as he’d been inspired to do. Although he now hated Communism, and desired its failure and destruction, he didn’t want to bring harm to his Communist friends and associates.

But, he wrote, “it is practically impossible for a man who joins the Communist Party for the purpose of correcting an evil condition of the world not to turn against the party the force of the same purpose when experience convinces him that Communism is a greater evil” [64].

Intellectually, Chambers understood that he couldn’t sit back and do nothing. “Evil is not something that can be condescended to, waved aside or smiled away, for it is not merely an uninvited guest, but lies coiled in foro interno at home with good within ourselves,” wrote Chambers. “Evil can only be fought” [798].

In 1939 Chambers met with Adolf Berle, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of security. To Berle he divulged details of his involvement and contacts within the Soviet underground.

Time: Friend & Foe
After meeting with Berle, Chambers returned to his recently-acquired employment as a writer at Time, and awaited developments.

Time passed — weeks, and then months went by and Chambers still didn’t know the outcome of his meeting with Berle. He then found out that when Berle had passed the information on to President Roosevelt, Roosevelt had laughed it off.

Chambers was discouraged, but maintained hope that behind the scenes an investigation had been undertaken. He continued to labor at Time, working his way up the ranks until he became editor of Foreign News, a position where he had the opportunity to raise public awareness of the Communist abuses and atrocities he already knew of and was continually learning of. Wrote Chambers:

I held certain facts to be self-evident on the basis of almost every scrap of significant foreign news: 1) the Soviet Union was not a “great ally” — it was a calculating enemy making use of World War II to prepare for World War III; 2) the Soviet Union was not a democracy; it was a monstrous dictatorship; 3) the Communist International had been dissolved in name only; in effect, it still functioned; 4) the Soviet Union was not a thin-skinned, under-privileged waif that must at any cost be wheedled into the family of free nations, but a toughly realistic world power whose primary purpose at that moment of history was conquest of the free world; 5) the indispensable first step in that conquest was the control of Central Europe and China; 6) the Chinese Communists were not “agrarian liberals,” but Chinese Communists, after the Russian Communist Party, the Number One section of the Communist International.

History has proved that, in the main, these views were right — at least, I think, no soldier in Korea would seriously question them. But in 1945, when it was most important to assert them because there was then still time to avert some of the catastrophe that would inevitably follow from a failure to grasp their reality, those views were anathema. They challenged an impassioned, powerful and all but universal official and unofficial pro-Soviet opinion. [497. For a similar viewpoint, read George Orwell’s forward to Animal Farm]

Even though his managing editor had his back, it wasn’t easy for Chambers to be anti-Communist. He had to swim hard against the mainstream current, constantly battling to get the truth published.

The fight in Foreign News was not a fight for control of a seven-page section of a newsmagazine. It was a struggle to decide whether a million Americans more or less were going to be given the facts about Soviet aggression, or whether those facts were going to be suppressed, distorted, sugared or perverted into the exact opposite of their true meaning. [498]

To me many of my colleagues at Time, basically kind and intensely well-meaning people, seemed to me as charming and as removed from reality as fish in a fish bowl. To me they seemed to know little about the forces that were shaping the history of our time. To me they seemed like little children, knowing and clever little children, but knowing and clever chiefly about trifling things while they were extremely resistant to finding out about anything else. [477-478]

Like most people who have substituted the habit of delusion for reality, they became hysterical whenever the root of their delusion was touched, and reacted with a violence that completely belied the openness of mind which they prescribed for others. [499]

So it went for years. In fact, nearly 10 years passed, with little to encourage Chambers that anything was being done with the information he’d divulged. He’d had a couple visits from the FBI, who questioned him relative to some of his underground connections, but as far as he could tell, nothing substantial was being done. Alger Hiss and the other Washington conspirators were still in government employ, rising in power and influence.

Time to Testify
Finally, in 1948, Chambers got a phone call that would change the course of his life, and the course of the nation. He was told that he’d been subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Chambers went home to his farm. He spoke to his wife. They thought of their happy existence, and of their two children. They knew that his testimony could lead to him losing his job, and to them losing their farm. They knew their peaceful existence would be compromised, perhaps altered permanently. Said Chambers:

I thought about these things a moment that August evening after the telephone call from Washington, sitting quietly in the gathering dark. Then I snapped on the light and wrote my managing editor and understanding friend a brief memo. I told him that I expected to be subpoenaed. I told him that any act a man performs, even the simplest and best, may set up reverberations of evil whose consequences it is beyond our power to trace; that my action might cause great suffering. But one man must always be willing to take upon himself the onus of evil that other men may be spared greater evil. For the sake of his children and my own, that all children might be spared the evil of Communism, I was going to testify. [531]

Still, Chambers was hesitant. He wavered. He didn’t want his family to suffer. Neither did he  want former friends and associates, Communists though they were, to suffer. “I did not wish to testify before the House Committee,” wrote Chambers. “I prayed that, if it were God’s will, I might be spared that ordeal” [533]. Chambers thought that perhaps he should minimize what he had to say, let 10 years of “shadows, dust and cobwebs” continue to obscure the truth. But he could not do that.

I believed that I was not meant to be spared from testifying. I sensed, with a force greater than any fear or revulsion, that it was for this that my whole life had been lived. For this I had been a Communist, for this I had ceased to be a Communist… This challenge was the terrible meaning of my whole life, of all I had done that was evil, of all that I had sought that was good, of my weakness and my strength. Everything that made me peculiarly myself, and different from all others, qualified me to testify. My failure to do so, any attempt to evade that necessity, would be a betrayal that would measure nothing less than the destruction of my own soul….

For the moment had arrived when some man must be a witness, and so had the man. They had come together. The danger to the nation from Communism had now grown acute, both within its own house and abroad. Its existence was threatened. And the nation did not know it. [531-533]

Chambers met with the editor-in-chief of Time, Henry R. Luce, to tell him of the subpoena, and expressed his expectation that he’d no longer have a job. “Nonsense,” said Luce. “Testifying is a simple patriotic duty” [531].

With the support of his family, of his employer, and of his God, who had told him that if he’d fight for freedom all would be well with him, Chambers set forth to testify, to “step by step … destroy himself that [his] country and the faith by which it lives may continue to exist” [715].

On August 3, 1948, Chambers appeared before the House Committee. He began his testimony with a summary of his history, and a powerful denunciation of Communism:

The Communist Party exists for the specific purpose of overthrowing the Government, at the opportune time, by any and all means; and each of its members, by the fact that he is a member, is dedicated to this purpose.

It is ten years since I broke away from the Communist Party. During that decade, I have sought to live an industrious and God-fearing life. At the same time, I have fought Communism constantly by act and written word. I am proud to appear before this Committee. The publicity, inseparable from such testimony, has darkened and no doubt will continue to darken my effort to integrate myself in the community of free men. But that is a small price to pay if my testimony helps to make Americans recognize at last that they are at grips with a secret, sinister and enormously powerful force whose tireless purpose is their enslavement. [542]

Thus began an ordeal for Chambers — and for Alger Hiss — that involved testimony before the House Committee and two juries, lasting well over a year. Widely covered by news media and broadcast via radio, and related at length by Chambers in Witness, the hearings and trials resulted in the perjury conviction of Alger Hiss. Much more importantly, as Chambers hoped they would, they educated Americans on the sinister nature and intentions of Communism.

The Constant Creep of Communism
In many ways Chambers was an insider, privy to knowledge and information that was hidden from the vast majority of Americans.

As a former Communist Party member and underground agent, and as a member of the news media, particularly while Time’s Foreign News Editor, Chambers had an inside view into how the news media itself was being infiltrated and corrupted by Communists.

There is probably no important magazine or newspaper in the country that is not Communist-penetrated to some degree. A staff member of one of the most persistently anti-Communist dailies in the country told me recently that the Communist Party book and registration number of its city editor, a man unsuspected and trusted for years, had just been discovered. So had the party book and registration number of another editor, of even longer standing and greater trust, while a switchboard operator, spotted by one of the paper’s reporters who had been smuggled into a Communist rally, turned out to be a high official in the Communist Party’s local bureaucracy. [475]

As a member of the Soviet underground in Washington D.C., Chambers saw how the government was being infiltrated and corrupted by Communists. He saw how, as a result, government policy was shifting toward Communism.

That power to influence policy has always been the ultimate purpose of the Communist Party’s infiltration. It was much more dangerous, and, as events have proved, much more difficult to detect, than espionage, which beside it is trivial, though the two go hand in hand. [427]

Speaking of policy — of a massive government policy and program — Chambers recognized the New Deal for what it really was: The result and manifestation of Communism in America and American government. He penned this profound, insightful critique of the New Deal, a critique which equally applies to subsequent massive government programs that Chambers didn’t live to witness:

All the New Dealers I have known were Communists or near-Communists. None of them took the New Deal seriously as an end in itself. They regarded it as an instrument for gaining their own revolutionary ends… I had noted its obvious features — its coalition of divergent interests, some of them diametrically opposed to the others, its divided counsels, its makeshift strategy, its permanently shifting executive personnel whose sole consistency seemed to be that the more it changed, the more it remained the most incongruously headed hybrid since the hydra. Now with a curiosity newborn of Berle, I saw how misleading those surface manifestations were, and tactically how advantageous, for they concealed the inner drift of this great movement. That drift was prevailingly toward socialism, though the mass of those who, in part directed, in part were carried along by it, sincerely supposed that they were liberals.

I saw that the New Deal was only superficially a reform movement. I had to acknowledge the truth of what its more forthright protagonists, sometimes unwarily, sometimes defiantly, averred: the New Deal was a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nation. It was not a revolution by violence. It was a revolution by bookkeeping and lawmaking. In so far as it was successful, the power of politics had replaced the power of business. This is the basic power shift of all the revolutions of our time. This shift was the revolution. It was only of incidental interest that the revolution was not complete, that it was made not by tanks and machine guns, but by acts of Congress and decisions of the Supreme Court, or that many of the revolutionists did not know what they were or denied it. But revolution is always an affair of force, whatever forms the force disguises itself in. Whether the revolutionists prefer to call themselves Fabians, who seek power by the inevitability of gradualism, or Bolsheviks, who seek power by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle is for power.

Now I thought that I understood much better something that in the past had vaguely nibbled at my mind, but never nibbled to a conclusion — namely, how it happened that so many concealed Communists were clustered in Government, and how it was possible for them to operate so freely with so little fear of detection. For as between revolutionists who only half know what they are doing and revolutionists who know exactly what they are doing the latter are in a superb maneuvering position. At the basic point of the revolution — the shift of power from business to government — the two kinds of revolutionists were at one; and they shared many other views and hopes. Thus men who sincerely abhorred the word Communism, in the pursuit of common ends found that they were unable to distinguish Communists from themselves, except that it was just the Communists who were likely to be most forthright and most dedicated in the common cause. The political color blindness was all the more dogged because it was completely honest. For men who could not see that what they firmly believed was liberalism added up to socialism could scarcely be expected to see what added up to Communism. Any charge of Communism enraged them precisely because they could not grasp the differences between themselves and those against whom it was made. Conscious of their own political innocence, they suspected that it was merely mischievous, and was aimed, from motives of political malice, at themselves. But as the struggle was really for revolutionary power, which in our age is always a struggle for control of the masses, that was the point at which they always betrayed their real character, for they reacted not like liberals, but with the fierceness of revolutionists whenever that power was at issue.

I perceived that the Communists were much more firmly embedded in Government than I had supposed, and that any attempt to disclose or dislodge them was enormously complicated by the political situation in which they were parasitic. Every move against the Communists was felt by the liberals as a move against themselves. If only for the sake of their public health record, the liberals, to protect their power, must seek as long as possible to conceal from themselves and everybody else the fact that the Government had been Communist-penetrated. Unlike the liberals, the Communists were fully aware of their superior tactical position, and knew that they had only to shout their innocence and cry: “Witch hunt!” for the liberals to rally in all innocence to their defense. I felt, too, that a persistent effort by any man to expose the Communists in Government was much less likely to lead to their exposure than to reprisals against him. [471-473]

Has the Communist infiltration and subversion of society, media and government ceased? Though it was for a time heroically hampered by the efforts of Chambers and subsequent freedom fighters like Ronald Reagan, I submit that it has not ceased. It has been spreading for decades, as Chambers described it, “like an ice cap over the nation”:

The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades. This is not a charge. My opinion of that revolution is not at issue. It is a statement of fact that need startle no one who has voted for that revolution in whole or in part, and consciously or unconsciously, a majority of the nation has so voted for years. It was the forces of that revolution that I struck at the point of its struggle for power. And with that we come to the heart of the Hiss Case and its strange manifestations. No one could have been more dismayed than I at what I had hit, for though I knew it existed, I still had no adequate idea of its extent, the depth of its penetration or the fierce vindictiveness of its revolutionary temper, which is a reflex of its struggle to keep and advance its political power. [741-742]

Unfortunately for freedom and liberty, Chambers’ sling didn’t have as powerful an effect on Communism as David’s sling had on Goliath. Today Communism in America is more insidious and widespread than ever, pressing forward and further oppressing under the politically-correct misleading moniker of “progressivism”; aided, abetted and accelerated by the votes of naive, ignorant and complicit Americans.

Combatting Communism
One day during the course of the Hiss trial, when he was attempting to anonymously eat lunch in a busy restaurant, Chambers had a sobering encounter:

A man in late middle age walked over to my table and asked if I were Whittaker Chambers. He was tall, with an austere dignity and evidently poor. He apologized twice for intruding, but, he said, he felt that he must thank me for what I was trying to do. I was embarrassed and said something to the effect that I hoped that my effort would at least be of some help to the American people. “Nothing,” he said bitterly, “nothing can save the American people.” Then he walked away. [764]

Sometimes I fear that bitter man was right. I watch as Barack Obama and closet-Communists like him strive to destroy Capitalism and every principle of America’s founding. I see the direction our country is headed, and I worry that the principles of Communism are already so deeply intertwined into our nation’s fraying fabric that there is no way to turn the tide.

But, like David facing Goliath, because of the prospect of subjugation, slavery, and even death for our friends, family and descendants if we fail, duty compels us to take up our slings and fight. How do we fight? Where do we aim our efforts? Through his personal account of his own ordeal, I believe that Chambers revealed some keys to combating Communism.

Look to God for Liberty
Chambers’ rejection of Communism primarily came about because he had a spiritual awakening, during which he came to the conclusion that Communism’s fatal flaw was its rejection of God:

What is lacking in Communism? What lack is it that keeps the human level of Communism so low, that makes the party a rat’s nest of intrigue and faction? What is the source of its corroding cynicism, that makes the workers, in contrast to the Communists, seem like heroes of simple honesty, that makes us waste human life and effort without scruple and turns our greatest victories into sordid waste? Why is it that thirty years after the greatest revolution in history, the Communists have not produced one single inspired work of the mind? What is our lack?

No, in my despair, I asked at last: can it be God? … I began to sense that the two mirages that had beckoned me into the desert — the mirage of the Almighty Mind and its powers to plan human salvation — were illusions…. What I sensed without being able to phrase it was what has since been phrased with the simplicity of an axiom: “Man cannot organize the world for himself without God; without God man can only organize the world against man.” The gas ovens of Buchenwald and the Communist execution cellars exist first within our minds.

“Man without mysticism is a monster.” I do not mean, of course, that I denied the usefulness of reason and knowledge. What I grasped was that religion begins at the point where reason and knowledge are powerless and forever fail — the point at which man senses the mystery of his good and evil, his suffering and his destiny as a soul in search of God. Thus, in pain, I learned the distinction between wisdom and knowledge — knowledge, which however exalted, is seldom more than the making of careful measurements, and wisdom, which includes knowledge, but also includes man’s mystery. [81-83]

There are good reasons why progressives strive to marginalize religion, why Communism compels atheism, and why the Founding Fathers enshrined religious freedom as a Constitutional right. The best obstacles we can erect against the soul-destroying means and ends of Communism are to promote faith in God, and to promulgate and defend the eternal truth that the only legitimate purpose of government is to secure the unalienable God-given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Reject Regimentation
Communism, and its siblings of Socialism, Progressivism and Fascism, love regimentation. Whether military pageantry and parades, prescribed patronage of “beloved” leaders, standardized mandatory educational systems, strictly organized youth groups, or centrally ordered social services encompassing employment, housing and sustenance, the Soviets and the Nazis were devoted to regimentation. Their modern successors are pretty fond of it, too.

Chambers wrote:

The modern world has nothing better than this [labor / work / struggle] to give us. Its vision of comfort without effort, pleasure without the pain of creation, life sterilized against even the thought of death, rationalized so that every intrusion of mystery is felt as a betrayal of the mind, life mechanized and standardized — that is not for us. We do not believe that it makes for happiness from day to day. We fear that it means catastrophe in the end. We fear it if only because standardization leads to regimentation, and because the regimentation that men distrust in their politics is a reflection of the regimentation that they welcome unwittingly in their daily living. [517]

In the name of progress, promising “freedom from” you-name-the-ailment, and insisting that big brother knows best, everything is being sanitized, standardized, regulated and regimented for us, gradually robbing us of individuality, opportunity and liberty.

Subjugation requires regimentation. By rejecting unnecessary centralized standardization, regulation and regimentation wherever it arises, whether in school lunches, or education, or health care, or minimum wage, or economic affairs, we can preserve liberty and thwart the progression of Communism.

Cast Off Collectivism
Possibly my favorite quote from the entire 799 pages of Witness is this: “Fascism (whatever softening name the age of euphemism chooses to call it by) is inherent in every collectivist form” [462].

Whether voluntary or compulsory, collectivism is the consolidation of property — and consequently, of power — into the hands of a relative few. Every student of history knows that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, and in no system of government is that more readily apparent than in the Communist.

Karl Marx proclaimed in his Communist Manifesto that “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

Following Marx’s doctrine, Communism consolidated tremendous amounts of property and power into the hands of relatively few men in the 20th century (among them, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot), and every last one of them abused that power, abolished basic human rights and dignity, and ruled with blood and horror. We are fools if we believe that collectivism — “whatever softening name [our] age of euphemism chooses to call it by” — will produce a result other than fascism.

John Adams, with great hindsight and foresight wrote: “The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

How is collectivism being imposed upon us today? By high, confiscatory taxes. Through widespread social welfare programs, such as socialized medicine. By federal seizure and control of public lands. Through the vilification of Capitalism. We must counter and cast off these collectivist attitudes and actions if we are to keep Communism at bay and preserve liberty.

God Bless the Witness
There is little in this world I despise more than the Satanic system of subjugation called Communism. I loved reading Witness because it was the account of an insider, an eyewitness to the disease who, once he realized its devastating effects, took it upon himself to fight it, regardless of the personal consequences. In so doing I believe that Chambers played a pivotal role in exposing the evils of Communism and slowing its expansion.

It wasn’t that long ago that I first learned who Whittaker Chambers was. I now believe that few men have done more for the cause of Liberty in the 20th century in the United States of America than Whittaker Chambers. I am moved to declare, as did an anonymous aged gentleman who telephoned Chambers on the afternoon of Hiss’s conviction: “God bless you! God bless you! Oh, God bless you!” [794]


Page numbers referenced are from Witness, by Whittaker Chambers, the 50th Anniversary Edition published by Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington D.C. Original Copyright 1952 by Whittaker Chambers, Copyright renewed in 1980 by Esther Chambers.

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